The Difference Between Leaving and Saying Goodbye

On my third appointment with my therapist I hit her with two big questions. The first I wrote about here. The second was this: how do you say goodbye?

Our denomination moves it’s clergy from place to place. They teach us how to leave but not how to say goodbye.

This discussion with my therapist was more complex. She asked: What were my expectations? Did I see saying goodbye as more emotional?

We talked about the directions we’re given when we leave an appointment. There is a detailed list about cleaning the house and packing. It goes so far as to say “label the boxes” (as if anyone would pack a box and not label its contents).

There’s another list with specifics to include for the people who will be following us. There is no shortage of information on how to leave.

But where’s the list telling you how to say goodbye? When do they tell you you’re likely to have feelings of loss and grief and that these feelings can come before you leave?

No one tells you that months after you’ve left you’ll remember a funny moment when you were there and laugh out loud. Or that you may have feelings of sadness or depression; that leaving is hard.

It’s easy to outline the tangibles; to make a to-do list for packing and cleaning and preparing the way for the next people.

It’s even easy to smile at your farewell reception. You’re going through the motions because you’re living on adrenaline and it’s reminding you of all you have to do next.

It was years before I realized that isn’t saying goodbye. I recognized I had learned some tricks along the way. If you didn’t get too close to people, if you treated them as congregants or volunteers and kept them at arms length then saying goodbye seemed easy. Only that’s not real. It’s superficial and you’ve cheated them and yourself from genuine fellowship.

Now, as we prepare for our last farewell as we enter retirement I want to know how I can do more than leave.

I’ve been journaling my feelings and trying to figure out this goodbye thing. As I worked on a draft for a blog post Emily Freeman’s name came up in my inbox with the subject line reading: 3 Simple Ways to Say Goodbye

There was no mistaking God was hearing my concerns and answering my heart cries.

I’m including the link to her article because you really should read it. We’re all going through goodbye’s of one kind or another so consider her words.

Here’s a couple of things that spoke deeply to me:

Maybe one reason you’ve not been able to move forward into your next right thing is because there’s an ending lingering in your life that never ended with a period.

It was Christmas break of my 8th grade year. I was enjoying school, where we lived and life in general. A day or two after Christmas my parents packed us up and we moved to another town. We would soon learn they left their life as ministers and would divorce. There were no goodbyes, no farewells. We just left. Almost 50 years later this is still a tender spot in my heart.

 As Emily writes, “the first thing is to put a period on the experience.

Don’t let the stuff outweigh the sacred.

Photographs and memories help us mark special times in our life. They are the stuff. The sacred is the impact those moments and people had in your life. How did it change you or help shape you some way?

The sacred things we mark from the ending will be brought forth into our beginnings, not necessarily because of an external thing we bring with us, but because of the person we have become.” 

I have viewed our retirement as an ending. When someone told me it’s the next chapter I corrected her and said it’s the last chapter.

As trite as it may sound it’s true that every ending is also a beginning. I’ve chosen to look at the ending without considering how it’s been preparing me for a new beginning. This is the space I need to give more thought. This is what will help me say goodbye without that unfinished feeling that lingers. It’s a hollow feeling when you fail to mark the sacred things from the time that was.

I know I’ve been changed from those surrounding me. I am full of gratitude for how they’ve impacted my life and given me more understanding of grace.

This is how to say goodbye: with a heart full and running over with gratitude for God’s gift of unending grace and His reckless love.

The Balance Between Saving and Numbing

Many Years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him. 

“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves. – Barbara Brown Taylor, author

With our life in major transition mode for the past few months I needed something to save my life. I needed something that would take my mind off the to-do list and the longer list of unknowns. I needed something to give me breath.

I found myself letting art absorb me. I grabbed my basket of fabric scraps and set up the sewing machine that’s been in it’s case for months.

I scoured Pinterest for ideas, bought more bits of fabric and sewed piece after piece.

Then I grabbed my paints and again went to Pinterest for inspiration. I painted watercolors, determined to learn more about the method I so admired. I used my acrylics, some mixed media and even did a collage or 3.

In the process I had an idea that I’d start a new blog that could encompass all these art mediums: photography, making and writing.

Several months later I’m asking myself has that been saving me or numbing me? And is there a connection between the two?

When I was having extensive dental work done I welcomed the numbing ability of the Novocain. It would be poor medical practice not to give a patient something to numb the extreme pain cause by some procedures.

Working in recovery we talk about numbing our feelings and how that isn’t a good thing. As Brene Brown has told us, when you numb the pain you numb the joy.

So what gives here? I feel a little like all this busy-ness of making is numbing my emotional distress as it saves me. It’s a healthy distraction from seemingly endless lists.

When I’m in the creative process my mind is free to wonder. I’m not thinking about work or politics or what I should have done. It’s focused on what’s in front of me. Did I sew that line straight or does it matter? What color will look best on this painting? Should I ink in details or leave soft?

There are no right or wrong answers to those questions. Even the mistakes I think I’ve made aren’t mistakes. I have no one to answer to so I can think freely if I allow myself. Is this numbing or saving?

detail of bird mini quilt
watercolor of Sarge

Maybe the saving isn’t numbing but taking the edge off of my mind that struggles to shut down. Maybe it’s putting things into better perspective as most of the overthinking I engage in won’t change things and doesn’t really matter.

I posed this question to my therapist. Is art saving me or numbing me? She tilted her head and thought a moment and said, “Does it give you joy?”

We talked about the beneficial and harmful powers of numbing. She asked a few more questions. Is art causing me to neglect or ignore other things? Is it taking me away from life?

My floors might go a little longer between sweeping but the laundry is done, groceries bought and meals prepared. I still feel the pangs of loss and celebrate the joys of life. I am engaged in life.

As time gets shorter before our move I’ve had to put the sewing machine back in its case. Fabric and notions have been boxed up and most days my camera sits idle. Soon my paints will be packed except for my watercolors, 2 small watercolor tablets, and a few brushes. 

God saves us in many ways. Art is my gift from him. His way of giving me breath.

What is saving your life today?

Why Are We Telling Each Other to Breathe?

The first time I remember telling someone to breathe I was following the teenage son of a friend being wheeled into the emergency room several hundred miles away from his family.

I was on staff at a camp and Wesley was playing 3 on 3 basketball. The competition was physical between the older teens, all of them 6′ and more. Wes and an opponent went up for the ball when the other guy fell down on top of Wesley’s foot. His 6′ 3 frame crumpled to the ground.

The hospital was in a nearby town. It was an agonizing ride for Wesley. He was placed on a cart to wheel him into the ER. He bent over his foot holding it in silent agony. I realized in his pain he was holding his breath and I said firmly, yet as calmly as I could, “Breathe, Wesley”.

Today we see that word on memes, mugs and T-shirts. We have it on our phones. We choose it as our word for the year. Breathe

My cousin gave me this necklace as a reminder

My cousin and I have been texting it, writing it and saying it to each other for a few years now.

Why do we have to tell each other to do something we’re already doing? We are all breathing or we wouldn’t be alive.

Just like I noticed Wesley holding his breath when he was suffering we hold our breaths in a figurative sense.

Grief cripples us and our breath becomes shallow. We are trying to hold back the pain.

A hurricane demolishes a community and the effects continue long after the rest of the country has forgotten. Our breathing becomes angry gasps.

Divorce, job loss, miscarriage, empty nest…..they take our breath away. We gulp for air to stay alive but we aren’t breathing in real life-giving breath.

And we say to ourselves and to one another, “breathe“.

To do this we have to loosen our grip around the pain.

Wesley’s pain didn’t go away until he got medical attention. Some of us might need to start with appropriate medication to help us loosen our grip on what’s holding us.

When Beki tells me to breathe I know the she means slow down. Be in the here and now. Stop thinking about the what ifs and what was and what should be. Stop thinking about the unknowns and start with slowing down my mind. When I do that my breath follows and they are in rhythm together. 

The thing I’ve learned is I have to repeat this day after day. My mind is ready to race away with anxiety and worry. When it became overwhelming I sought professional help. While that has brought some relief, it doesn’t release me from needing to create practices that will help my mind and breath find a healthy rhythm.

I often find that healthy pace in the creative process. I read, journal, spend time with people who are healthy and not afraid to remind me to breathe when they see me gasping. I have faith in a God who loves me and restores my breath.

As my son has reminded me, let people help you. It’s how God has always worked in my life – through the hearts and hands of others.

Breathe, friends. Breath in deeply and exhale peace.

“Fragile” – Handle With Care

The boxes are stacking up in our garage. It started well. Boxes of books, cd’s I’m afraid to part with (hey, vinyl came back), extra linens. We packed like items together and marked clearly on the box.

Then we had a box with a little space at the top to fill and contents are now marked “MISC”. Basically, a little of this and little more of that.

More than one box is marked FRAGILE. Pottery and glasses have been wrapped with bubble wrap. A favorite cookie jar and old mason jars are packed carefully.  

One of the boxes marked fragile will have a carefully wrapped tiny ceramic cow. My husband has glued its tail and one leg back on. It still doesn’t stand without leaning it against something. My son paid a quarter for it at a rummage sale when he was in middle school. His small act will forever be precious to me.

As we continue to sort through photos, papers, and trinkets I’m reminded at how fragile I’ve felt during this period.

For every note, recognition and photograph we’ve packed we’ve found joy and sadness in both. Happy memories of the celebrations and sadness of the years passed.

One day I’m energy-filled to get this room packed up and cleaned out and the next day I’m mourning. It’s enough to have me going down the bi-polar check off list in my head.

This is life: a mixture of strength and fragility.

This is a life well lived and well loved.

In the poetic words of Bono, “A heart that’s broken is a heart that’s open”. (Cedarwood, 2014)

When my heart feels fragile I remind myself it’s because it’s open to love and joy. Just as you can’t numb the bad without numbing the good an open heart is often a broken heart. It feels the lows as deeply as it feels the highs.

Have you read the Psalms? Read the ones attributed to King David and you will find joy and anger mingled together.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. and my place of safety 3 I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. Psalm 18:2-3P

In Psalm 22 David starts with these words:

“My God, my God, why have you rejected me?”

This is life. One day we are praising and moments later questioning.

Some days I’ve felt like that tiny ceramic cow that can’t stand without leaning on something. Parts of me are broken and need mending.

Not every period in life has felt this fragile. For now, I’m trying to wrap the tender places with grace. I’m walking in the thin space between what was and the unknown of what is ahead. But, I am not walking alone.

God continues to make His presence known in my life with caring family and friends; with good doctors and counselors. He is my provider.

And a heart that’s broken, is a heart that’s open. Open, open.

Compassion Fatigue in Ministry

How do you tell them you’re tired? That your smiles aren’t as real as they use to be? That, many days, you have to make yourself show up.

This isn’t suppose to happen. Not to us. Not to people who are the ones who hug you when you’ve come back after your last relapse. Not to people who are grace-givers and hope-peddlers. 

This isn’t suppose to happen.

But it does. It has and I don’t know what to do with my tired heart and pretend smile.

In the early days I held a little distance between these men with their addictions and lives I knew nothing about. I watched and listened and let God soften my words and make wise my heart. I walked carefully into this new ministry, a foreign world on home soil. 

I let their stories pierce my heart and I let the tears fall when one didn’t return home because we want this place that houses 100 men to be a home for them. We want this to be the home that loves and cares about their comings and goings, a home where they can know love and grace and mercy and that love and mercy don’t exclude rules for communal living.

God was using this community of residents and staff to show me that grace was more than a prayer said before a meal. Yes, I’d grown up in the church and sang Amazing Grace but this, this acceptance of the guy who was holding a sign on the side of the road yesterday, this was grace.

This was compassion and mercy and love and they will steal your heart and leave you empty and tired with no more tears to cry for the next one. 

We pull away, we take vacation, we have creative endeavors, we do all of the things that should keep us healthy and our souls fit for caring one more day. But now, my tears are from feeling numb to it all.

I want to feel like I did a dozen years ago, when it was fresh and I was learning about the disease of addiction and finding my place in this story of recovery and relapse and grace. Now, it seems like the same song on repeat. 

Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue

Where is the renewal of my soul? 

One of the perks about our ministry is the competent counselors on staff.  What could be better than a licensed mental health counselor, who I also consider a friend, just down the hall from my office? So I told her. I told her I’d lost it. I’d lost the passion and energy and that I had to make myself show up.

She looks me in the eye, listening to my words as well as my heart. Her voice softens and she asks me, again, ‘What about you? You’re a nurturer but are you taking care of you? What are you doing that’s for you?‘ 

You know I am, Marian. You know I’m taking a photography class and that I write. You know I do those things for me.

She pressed on, ‘But who are your friends? Your girlfriends? The ones you do things with, not your husband, yourfriends?

Ah, yes. The ones who live in other states. Those friends? The story gets complicated and our talk grows quiet as she knows I’ll walk out her door and nothing will change.

We are wired to tend to the needs of others while ignoring the weakening pulse in our heart. The bible is full of verses about putting others first and serving the least and how the last will be first in the Kingdom. These verses of works walk hand in hand with the faith on which they are built. One without the other is dead so we carry on until we slowly die on the inside.

There is that one verse. The one I like reading in the Message, the one that makes me think of music and the ocean and the graceful rhythms of both.

It’s as if Eugene Peterson was reading my mind when he wrote this paraphrase:

“Are you tired? Worn out ? Burned out on religion?” 

Well, yes. Yes, I am.

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Sometimes keeping company with Jesus looks like a phone call with a girlfriend, a heart to heart with my sister or laughing at an eleven-year old’s joke. These are life breaths to suck in deeply, slowly and remember that I’m refreshed and walking in the rhythms of grace-land. 

My Faithful Companion

My husband is a dog guy. We’ve had several in our 40+ years of marriage but the last was the best. He was a young pup when we got him from the shelter. He liked to get himself around Henry’s feet as if to say “don’t leave me”. We named him Tripp because he couldn’t walk without tripping over him. As Tripp grew to over 70 pounds he remained at Henry’s side. He was his constant and faithful companion.

Over the last dozen years grief has been my faithful companion. It will leave for months or even a year at a time but it always returns.

In these 10 years or so we’ve lost all of our parents and a dear uncle. That is enough to cause the feelings of loss and sadness to come in and out of my life. Add to that realizing more and more the loss of youth and working in the unpredictable world of addiction. Actually, addiction is predictable: some will die.

It only hurts when you care and at times it seems I care too much. Of course that’s not true but those I love, I love deeply. The family I’ve lost have all left lasting imprints on my life.

The ones we’ve lost to addiction are the most painful, yet, where I guard my heart the most.

I’ve been public with my grief in hopes it’s helpful to those who are struggling or just haven’t found their voice to sing the chorus of lament.

I write to dispel any shame associated with sorrow or sadness.

In the church, we have a habit of celebrating death. We try to avoid the pain of loss by jubilantly celebrating their eternal life in heaven. We talk about the suffering that is no more. Yes, I believe that. But let me feel their loss. Let my soul mourn their absence. Let me express my sorrow.

Grief has also become a teacher. I’ve learned that it’s not only associated with physical death but it also arrives on the heels of change.

It’s not that I don’t like change. If I’m the one creating it I’m all for it. But imposed change like getting old(er) or moving or retirement? My faithful companion is at the door of my heart again.

Grief shows itself in different ways to each of us. For me, it looks like a combination of anxiety and depression. It often means unexpected tears for apparently no reason like a commercial. Or a fictionalized story of a family going through a hard time. It was a good book but I was bawling as if they were real people!

My anxiety also showed up with physical symptoms like lack of concentration, excessive worry, change in sleeping patterns and, at times, what felt like heart palpitations.

This was the point I realized I needed help beyond caring family and listening friends.

A quick Google search will tell you there are 7 or 5 stages of grief. I’m choosing 5 because who needs two more stages!

You’re probably familiar with them but here’s a reminder: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

I’m pretty sure I breezed through denial and went straight to anger and then completely skipped bargaining. Our lives aren’t text books. Sometimes we’ll repeat a stage and feel like we’re on a hamster wheel of grief.

Recently, I’ve sought medical help for the second time. I’m fortunate to have been directed to a psychiatrist I’m comfortable with. After consultation she’s put me on medication to help alleviate the anxiety. I’m also going to start therapy, which will be a first for me.

I think I’m moving out of the depression stage but I’m not sure if it’s because of the meds or I’m moving into acceptance. I don’t know that it matters. I do know my balance is still wobbly. I also know I’m loved, cared for and I have hope.

Hope is what I want to share. Sometimes it starts with a phone call to a doctor or a stranger writing a blog.

Yes, pain is real but so is hope.

Moving On or Moving Forward?

This man is talking about grief and one month and one day ago my sister-in-law, sitting in front of me, leaves the room. Her eyes are red with tears ready to spill. She has this thing about tears being weakness and not showing tears to anyone. Ever. But they flood her eyes.

I know that line of defense and it doesn’t work. Tears are often beyond our control and aren’t about weakness at all. The first part I know from experience. Tears come at the worst times and you can only blame allergies or contacts so many times before people catch on. 

The second part, that tears aren’t about weakness is what I want to believe. I think it is true. But. To not be in control always feelsweak, so tears are visible signs of weakness. This is what is ingrained in my being and what I’m fighting to dispel.

“Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.” ― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

Dr. Pue is talking about grief and it’s the third time this month we’ve been in the room with the grieving. The children and grandchildren, the spouse, friends…we’ve stood alongside, hugged close and listened to their stories.

At its best, grief spills out in stories. The grieving smile and laugh and for a moment the heart is not weighed down by loss and sorrow. In the quiet, in the alone time when visitors and family have left, the same stories that brought laughter bring tears and an ache that won’t be soothed.

“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?” ― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

People want to remind us it’s time to move on. It sounds cold and the words sting as how can we move on from love?

Dr. Carson Pue reframes this thought as he describes it this way:

“There’s a difference between moving on and moving forward. Moving on, implies we leave the other behind but moving forward…no, moving forward leaves no one behind.”

The time to move forward will come. And we can do this without fear or sorrow when we remember we move forward together.

Love is never left behind. 

Raise Your Voice

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

It was the early 70’s when my mom became a whistleblower. In her position as bookkeeper, she saw some things that she considered questionable. After a period of close inspection, she discovered her boss was complicit in the mishandling of funds. She took her complaint to the regional office.  Her boss was reassigned in another state. She lost her job. 

Years later when I was in a similar situation I went to my mom for counsel. Leave it alone, she said. Silence.

My husband has named my side of the family the Loud Family. Yes, our volume often exceeds acceptable levels but we aren’t just loud with volume. 

We are a family of women who, at times to our detriment, speak up and speak out.

There was another time when the outcome of my aunt raising her voice changed the course of events for the better.

It was early November, with an expected 6 weeks to go before giving birth to our first child, who was due at the end of December. My aunt took one look at my swollen belly and said, “You’re not going to make it to December.”  

I shared that information with my doctor. Because we gave action to our voices I was prepared for the November 18th arrival of a full term, healthy girl. 

Raising our voices seems to be the default mode in women in my family. We’ve raised them in the pulpit and the carpool. But that hasn’t been the history of women in general.

Join me on the Red Couch at SheLoves Magazine to read the rest and raise your voice in comment section. Thank you!

The Perfect Side of Boring

Yesterday was the reason people live in South Florida. The skies were a cloudless blue. Humidity was low and the temperature never got above a pleasant 80*. It was perfect. It’s January and this is our winter. 

My freshman English teacher assigned us to write how we envisioned the world. I don’t remember the words I wrote only her comments written in red on the top of my paper. I wrote my vision of a perfect world and she wrote “how boring” that would be.

She didn’t know my parents had divorced earlier that year and that my dad took my younger brother and moved to another state. She didn’t know mom and I also moved and were living far from family. She didn’t know my perfect world had been turned upside down.

How could there be a problem with perfect? If it were boring it wouldn’t be perfect. How did my teacher not get that?

In the years since I’ve learned a lot about perfection and perspective. I know that most of our days are average and ordinary. They are doing the mundane things that must be done. We’re buying groceries and preparing meals. We’re doing laundry and washing dishes, sitting in meetings and standing in lines. We’re fighting traffic in our daily commute while trying to remember everything on our to-do list for the day.

If we’re honest, on the days nothing breaks down they are perfect. And perhaps, some would say, boring. 

So what is perfect? Is it blue skies and 80* in winter? 

If I could, I’d live somewhere else July – September. The humidity is stifling and temperatures rarely get below 77. Heat + humidity = feels like in the 90’s. Every day, month after muggy month.

But we stay because we love palm trees and the close proximity to the ocean. We know the promise of winter. The same reasons some stay through snowy winters. They know the promise of summer.

Perfect is personal. That’s what my teacher didn’t understand.

When my parents divorced I still went to school, mom and I still went to church. We did all the same things but it wasn’t the same. What was ordinary before now looked perfect. Obviously it wasn’t for my parents but it was for my 13 year old self.

It would seem the route to perfection is through hard times. Through times that aren’t comfortable. The prettiest roses I’ve seen grow in climates with cold, snowy winters. 

The weather is simply an analogy for how it is in life. It helps me see that a day of doing all the things can be perfect, if not spectacular. 

Living in the Now

Our daughter got a new car recently. It’s a Nissan Rogue. I’ve never noticed that particular car but now I see them all over. That’s how it happens. They’ve been there all along but once it’s pointed out we notice.

That’s how it is with being present. Have you noticed the talk about living in the moment, being present? I hear it on the morning news shows, see the articles online and come face to face with the advise from a friend who works as a counselor. 

The problem is, I’m a literal person and over thinker. That can be a tough combination. It provokes questions like, how long do we live in the now? Now asks what do I want to make for dinner which leads to thinking about later and that isn’t the now. See what I mean?

Now has me telling you I’m watching college football and forgetting about the recent holidays. Yes, I exhaust myself with this over thinking!

I understand the value of this moment. I get the importance of not living in the past or the future. But one will always lead into the other. That’s what time does. 

Time has found us living in the narrow spaces of in between then and tomorrow. We are packing up our life, or so it seems. For the first time in over 20 years we know we’ll be moving and we know where and when. When I’m packing things in boxes I’m definitely living in the now. But my thoughts quickly turn to where we might put this in the new house.

Now finds me unsettled and anxious at times. Now doesn’t offer the answers I want. But now is where I name the 5 good things. It’s where I say the prayers and remind myself to pick up the dry cleaning.

Now is when I make supper for the two of us and when I lose myself in a book.

Now isn’t scary. It’s obvious and simple. It’s routine and predictable. Now is comfortable which makes me wonder why I squirm so much in trying to figure out the future. 

The present slips quickly into the next moment and that’s the temptation that lures me. It promises control that creates expectations and both come tumbling down like a house of cards. 

So I’m working on training my focus to what’s in front of me. It’s not easy. I have years of second guessing myself and believing I can control life. I’m not sure how this living in the now is suppose to work but I’m willing to try. It starts with breathing in, ‘Yah’, and out ‘weh’….breathing in and out the name of God.